My adult life has been one of travel. I’ve been lucky enough to circle the globe many times, and to travel to Europe and America more times than I can count. I try to seek out sites of history, of culture, of beauty.
Religious sites often combine all three. The Parthenon, even in ruins, is a sublime beauty. Ayasofya in Istanbul was the largest building in the world for hundreds of years. I’ve spoken previously of Notre Dame in Paris. The two fabulous mosques in Isfahan are places of amazing beauty. I’ve visited a temple in Yazd which, while not particularly spectacular, held a sacred fire and possibly the most engaging religious system I’ve ever encountered.
I’ve been to Stonehenge, a Buddhist cave complex near Mumbai, the Temple of Apollo, Salisbury Cathedral, the Meiji Shrine, and the sublime Sagrada Familia.
And a modest urban mosque – just a hall, really – in central Zanjan. Here the devotions of the absent congregation were almost palpable. Here was a place that ordinary people made special through their feelings about it.
Religion, I feel, is not so much a matter of dogma, as a desire to touch the beauty of the cosmos. The names and the stories of the various gods are different, but throughout there is an evident desire to provide answers for some of the big questions of our existence. And always, some facility to let the divine beauty of the cosmos touch and uplift the soul.
Anybody who has visited one of the grand religious sites cannot fail to be impressed by the soaring architecture, the illuminated spaces, the beauty of the structure over and above the everyday buildings of shops and apartments and workshops.
Those who design and build temples are mindful of the intended effect upon those visiting. They want the devoted to be uplifted in their spirits, to be aware that they are occupying a special place, to feel a desire for truth and beauty.
But, despite all the treasure and effort expended on the erection of these soaring monuments, I feel as close to the true beauty of the cosmos when I contemplate a dewdrop in the morning light, as I do in any temple.
Image courtesy Wikipedia